Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Eckstein Building Meeting

That was interesting.  I'm going to flesh this out because I think a lot of these questions asked about Eckstein might ring true for your school building.

I was a little confused at first as there were very few parents (even at 5:45 pm) and no handout.  It was in the Eckstein auditorium (about 1/3 ish full by the time it started.) The organizers were smart; Eckstein's curriculum night followed at 7 pm.  (although what a parking nightmare).

The district was represented by Flip Herndon, Richard Best, Bruce Skowyra.  The meeting was videotaped (by I don't know by whom). Principal Sherry Kokx was there as was Executive Director, Kim Whitworth.  Elected officials included Rep. Gerry Pollet and Rep. David Frockt.  I saw no School Board members.

Dr. Herndon said he would answer some questions already submitted and then take questions.   It's pretty easy - as the parents/staff circled back to the same questions - what the issue is.

The district has a commitment to getting work done.  I do truly believe that BUT there are many schools with many needs and it takes time and money.  And, our district does NOT have a commitment to maintenance.

Eckstein, like many an old building, is having work done to it piecemeal.  (Did you know that when it says "new roof" on a BTA list, it could be just part?  They rarely do an entire roof except on elementaries.)

Some work was done this past summer and prior to that: replaced boilers, DVC control system partial replacement, demolished portables, re-carpeted and installed new lighting lenses (don't know what the last one means).

Next summer, they will spend $2.2 M on roof, waterlines, upgrade mechanical system and fire sprinkler system.

But, as was pointed out, they are trying to shift a partially old and partially new HVAC system from nematic to digital.  That seems like a big cross-your-fingers and hope it will work.

They were asked what is the district standard for room temps? 68 for heating, 76 for cooling.  (To note, 90% of the schools do not have A/C; I'm dying to know which ones do have it.)   There were many questions and complaints on the temperatures.  Several teachers have said that, despite the work during the summer, their rooms are too hot or cold.

Mr. S said that with the digital system they can control it from JSCEE but that he has only 3-4 techs to answer issues for 97 schools.

Dr. Herndon was asked: Seems like made a decision that building will have repairs.  Why did you make that decision versus replacing it?  

Flip - larger question about major projects get on BEX levy.  Eckstein is a landmarked building and cannot be torn all the way down and then renovated.  He said that adds expense and they haven't done the calculations but it would seem to be about $75M.

 Is Eckstein slated to be on BEX V?
Not sure.  BEX V will come in Feb. 2019 There are no conversations yet but planning is generally 18 months ahead.  He said they are working on BTA IV now.

Such a seemingly simple question but one not easily answered.  One thing to understand; just because a building makes one BEX list, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be on the next.

Of course middle schools were next and should have been on BEX IV.  I sat in a room - let's see was it two Facilities managers ago? - and they said that was the case.  Of course, that was before the district realized that they had truly underestimated growth, had closed buildings and now would have to spend money to reopen those closed buildings AND open long-closed buildings.  And, the early surge was in elementary.

The district also admitted that they only can handle emergency or high need maintenance requests. The emergency ones get done in 24 hours.

Bruce said this is one of things the district is proud of that "we have high water quality standards in this school and district."  He said the testing on March 14, 2014, came in at 100% at Eckstein.  When asked about the water potability in the bathrooms he said the water is not tested in the bathrooms for drinking.

? combined sewer overflow
Best said this was a problem with the  City and they had crews at Eckstein until 2 in the morning the night before school (as well as at multiple schools).  

? Seismic structural
They said there were planned improvements as part of BTA III or BEX IV, with half the schools to get seismic under BTA III and other half already done.  Best said they were done to prepare for a "standard earthquake."

Two points.  One, I'll have to check that seismic claim.  I find it hard to believe that all the buildings will be done by the end of BTA III.  Two, I'll have to ask for the SPS definition of a "standard earthquake."

Apparently there are also issues at Eckstein with asbestos in the floor tiles.  One teacher said she had health problems and the custodian said until she got a mat under her chair, she would keep rubbing into the tile structure.  Best tried to say that there were "50 coats of wax" on the floor from decades of maintenance so not likely any tile was airborne.  The teacher said she got the mat and stopped having headaches.

Other issues include loudness of heating system (one teacher said she had it turned off during her class last year as she was a mobile teacher but could not get it done this year) and that if the district wanted good testing outcomes, the temperatures would have to stabilize.

Towards the end of the meeting, Rep Pollet said he was speaking respectfully but he asked if the  district could commit to 30 days taking data and having a schedule to address most pressing heat/cooling problem.
Herndon said, when I have data, we hope to have temperature controls set for that area.
Pollet responded that  "you do know where the problems are so why not a 30 day schedule with assurances that this is being controlled ?"
Herndon said, "We can look at that and I think we can it do."

They took questions and, to their credit, allowed me to speak.  While I do believe Facilities is heartfelt in their wishes to do better, it sometimes looks like they are either not doing what they say they will or are be buffeted by forces outside their control.

I say that because BTA IV talk is already making me uneasy.

So I told the crowd this:
- the district had cut back on maintenance since the late '70s and my example was if you own a house and don't maintain it, you know what will happen to the condition of your home.
- that the district had blurred the lines of what BEX is for and what BTA is for.  And, that they were considering $100M for a new downtown high school and $53M for the Federal Reserve building.  Out of BTA III's $270M, that would be $153M.  More than half of the levy for two new buildings.
- that the Board (and the district) just signed off to telling the State that they have all the capital dollars they need for new buildings and improvements to old ones.

There was a bit of a stunned silence but I think I made the point.

So let the Hunger Games begin for BTA IV (I'm half-kidding).  Because everyone deserves to know what the discussion is for those dollars and everyone who needs major improvements/renovation to their building should ALSO be able to throw their hat into the BTA ring.

At least let's have an honest and broad discussion.


Eric B said...

Lighting lenses are the clear plastic things between you and the bulb or tube in light fixtures. They spread the light around and make it less harsh to look directly at the light. Especially fluorescent ones get yellow as they age, so replacing them makes the light look brighter.

They may not be able to tell you what a standard earthquake is. Back when I was learning civil engineering (granted, 18 years ago and things change pretty fast in seismic work), you worked to a ground acceleration. The ground acceleration depends on magnitude of the quake, its depth, and the soil the structure is built on, so it's not easy to convert from X ground accelerations to a magnitude Y quake.

Anonymous said...

Don't hear anything at all at Eckstein that isn't an issue at many other schools. As I posted in an earlier thread, Get In Line Eckstein. The district has other, bigger issues than you. That includes maintenance.

North of 85th

ConcernedSPSParent said...

I would expect the earthquake retrofits at SPS owned buildings would require DPD permitting and compliance with current code. OK, I hope....

Anonymous said...

I don't even know what to say with the acknowledgement that the only maintenance performed is on an "emergency basis."

To those more knowledgable than myself, where does the funding come from for maintenance projects? I know a lot of the big items come from the BEX and BTA levies (as they probably should) but what about funding for the day-to-day maintenance.

It still isn't clear to me if the inability to perform maintenance is due to a lack of money or inability to manage their properties.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Concerned, a couple of things to understand about seismic work.

One saying they are doing "seismic work" doesn't necessarily mean it is a retrofit.

Two, the retrofit does NOT have to be to current code. I wish that were true but depending on the age of the building, it can be within certain constraints. (This is what I was told years ago.)

Northwesterner, again, Maintenance is funded thru the General Fund. That is why it is so tempting (and easy) for senior management to see it as a go-to fund for their projects.

From my conversations with the union, the inability to catch up on basic maintenance is due to the cutbacks. They do not have the same numbers of personnel they used to. I know they have a software now that allows them to better order issues that come in but, as you see from my reporting, apparently that does not matter as they can only address emergency or high need issues.

I have consistently said - we need to get back on a real maintenance schedule given the number of buildings and the high investment costs in new buildings.

There seems to be no one in senior leadership -save former Director Michael DeBell - who cared about this issue. I know Dr. Herndon and his staff care but don't get the money.

There was $2.6M in rental/lease revenue that just went to the General Fund. It did not go to maintenance even as it capital dollars.

Anonymous said...

A lot of Sealth students and teachers would laugh at the reference to high water quality standards. At Sealth there are several water fountains which do not work at all, just a couple years after the renovation. Those standards are great, but only for working water fountains.


Anonymous said...

Sorry - I didn't see a reference to the general fund.

Agreed, facility rental/lease fees should go back into the building.

Continuing to go to voters with levies for capital improvements that instead encompass things like "repairing door knobs" is asinine. There needs to be an ongoing budget for these things.

Eventually, once you defer maintenance like this, the infrastructure starts to fall apart. In public transportation, one of the more visionary leaders of the last three decades (for the most part) was David Gunn. He turned around a number of big system transit agencies in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. For instance, he cleaned up up the New York MTA when it was at its worse by a laser like focus on a "state of good repair." He put systems in place to make sure the infrastructure was maintained regularly, and the "crises" started to disappear.

Someone needs to look towards Seattle School's property holding the same way. You can't run a 90 property district by doing half the HVAC system at Eckstein and wondering why it doesn't work. You can't leave the entire front side of Ballard High School without lighting because they need to be replaced and you have to wait until a capital levy to fund that replacement.

These are on-going maintenance items that need to happen in an organized fashion, not on an emergency or levy-based basis.


Anonymous said...

What northwesterner said.

Also, while I agree that there are other schools with bigger problems that need maintenance/rebuilding as a higher priority than Eckstein, to denigrate these Eckstein parents because they are just trying to get some attention for the problems with their building strikes me as unhelpful (at best).

Just because other schools are in worse shape than Eckstein doesn't mean Eckstein's facility issues aren't real. What kind of a shitty system are we in that we are dismissing real building problems and parents' genuine concerns simply because other buildings are in even more deplorable conditions? It's not on. We should ALL be working together to push SPS to sort out its building funds and use them in a sensible way - and to ask for adequate facilities funding for maintenance as well as capital expansion, since they so patently aren't managing the situation properly at the moment.

FWIW, I don't have kids at Eckstein, so no direct personal investment in this. I'm just tired of us all wrangling over shares of a much too small pot, when the real issue is pushing for sufficient funding to begin with, so we're not in this position. And so our kids can go to school in safe, up-to-date, up-to-code buildings.


Anonymous said...

The most important thing the Eckstein parents can do is shine the light on the deferred maintenance that is systemic throughout the district's operations.

If they just focus on Eckstein, I feel they are unlikely to get far (note that according to the latest facility report Eckstein's backlog of maintenance is only estimated at $17 million. Compare that to Whitman, which has a maintenance backlog estimate of $27.5 million! Heck, Wilson-Pacific, which is "so bad" we just have to knock it down, only has a $19 mil maintenance backlog.

Maintenance and upkeep is a key duty of the district staff, and if they're not getting it done... as Charlie would say, where's the accountability?


Anonymous said...

Upon further review, it looks like Whitman has the second highest maintenance backlog in the district (just a little less than Ingraham). What a mess.

Even old Hay, which has some of the last in use, unrenovated, pre-1940s structures in the district (Hughes and Magnolia are closed; N Queen Anne is getting somework ... not sure if Montlake ever saw any work), has a smaller maintenance and repair backlog (not bad considering the wood building is 111-years old and still has all its original finishes, and the brick building is in its 90s; again, with the original finishes. Don't forget those buildings were to be disposed of over 25 years ago...)


Joe Wolf said...

$3M/year in preventive maintenance funding comes from the levies (both BEX and BTA). The rest comes from the general fund.

Greeny said...

agree with flibbertigibbit - let's not disparage our own, for advocating for their own. It's what we all should do. That doesn't preempt us all being aware of the relative issues/needs in OUR district, and recognizing each of our ability and some responsibility (whether on principle or just because one recognizes rising tides raise all boats) to also advocate at times for the whole.

agree with northwesterner re: the vital importance, nay, the wisdom, of maintenance. Does anybody not, really? Except those in charge of the budgeting decisions - who is that? Who is advocating for maintenance during the budgeting/strategic planning rounds - Facilities? Why do they not seem to get enough traction, year after year after year? There seem to me three areas:
1) Bigger pie. McCleeary people, thank you for litigating; WA Supreme Court Justices, for enforcing accountability (!TG some institutions still do.) So now, maybe we pressure our people in Olympia figure out the funding, to perhaps step up to stronger leadership with their peers, to cut the delays.
2) Bigger slice. Embolden (Facilities?) with our support (emails?), to fight in budget rounds for a bigger slice piece of the pie for maintenance.
3) Eliminate competing slices. Have you looked at the SPS Strategic Plan? There are so MANY "priorities" it's better to call it a laundry list - if I were internal at SPS, I'd be complaining, as this is no compass. Sorry, Dr. Nyland, touting and praising "having a strategic plan" is such a low bar, you raised your first red flag for me. Adding competing slices (eg. pre-k for all, Federal Bldg project, pulling charter schools into SPS purview, etc. dilutes dollars and bandwidth available to Maintenance. In this apparently fungible capital$/general fund$ scenario with what seems to me an unfocused, undisciplined strategic plan with an interim Superintendant seemingly content to placehold, I'm not sure what we can do - write the Board to override/increase the Maintenance budget and elevate it to a focused priority (say, in the top 10, vs. funds for "emergencies")?

northwesterner - Hughes, if you mean E C Hughes, is not "closed" - it was leased to Westside School, who repaired, opened and improved it during the past 4/5 years, until SPS called their lease in early, emptying them out in 2016 so SPS can use the building for!)

Greeny said...

Thanks Joe Wolf -
can you give us an idea of how much "the rest" is (eg. roughly matched, less, 2x, 5x?)

Joe Wolf said...

I do not know offhand. Your best resource for that information is Frank Grffin; find his email link and phone number at the page link below.

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Melissa Westbrook said...

Joe, that money from BEX/BTA for "preventative maintenance" is fairly new. I suspect it came about because not enough was getting done.

Joe Wolf said...

The $3M annually from the levies started with BTA III, which passed in February 2010.